By Dayo Benson, Dapo Akinrefon, James Ezema, Chukwuma Nwakama & Biodun Ogundare
LAGOSâ€”FORMER Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, has commended the National Assembly for empowering Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President.
The elder statesman, however, charged Jonathan to ensure that the Federal Government practices fiscal and true federalismÂ which he described asÂ great challenges to his administration.
He spoke, yesterday, at the launch of a book: Political Transition in Nigeria: 1993 to 2003, authoredÂ by former Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ogun State, Mr. Kayode Samuel.
The event, which took place at the Nigerian Air-Force Officers’ Mess, Victoria Island,Â Lagos, was attended by prominent Nigerians including Vanguard Publisher, Mr. Sam Amuka; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Dr. Onalapo Soneye andÂ Chief Ayo Opadokun.
According to Anyaoku, â€œWe in Nigeria are currently living in interesting times. There has been palpable lowering of tension and anxiety in the nation in the last few days when greater clarity and certainty were restored to the leadership of our country.
”And, this followed a resolution adopted by the two Houses of our national parliament. And, even abroad, I believe that there has also been noticeable sense of reliefÂ among the many friends of our country that the image of our country internationally is now on the mend.â€
Besides, he noted that, â€œthe main challenge facing our now confirmed Acting President is to mobilise and energise the Federal Government machinery, while at the same time inspiring the state governments to focus on practical delivery of services in the areas that he, in my view, correctly outlined in his broadcast.â€
While commending Jonathan for taking a bold step in discouraging adverts and courtesy visits, he said such move would put an end to sycophancy in the polity.
” I must commend the Acting President for what I heard MondayÂ night on the television that he has decided to discourage, if not put a stop, to the flurry of congratulatory messages being published in the newspapers and also stopÂ solidarity visits to him.
This, in my view, is indeed a welcome beginning by the Acting President to deal with the familiar disease of sycophancy and praise singing which, in all parts of the world, but especially so in our country, has often resultedÂ in national leadership being insulated from the public concerns of their people.â€
Anyaoku on June 12
He, however, gave a detailed insight about the countryâ€™s political transition and the role he played in ensuring Nigeria transits to democratic rule just as he explained that Nigeria had to be sanctioned after the June 12, 1993 annulment.
His words: â€œBut weâ€™re here to discuss, not current events but the political transition in Nigeria from 1993 to 2003. Since the decade in question, is the political transition of Nigeria, I thought it should be right for me to take this opportunity to tell you briefly about one of the gaps in themes selected in the commentaries by the author. And the gap is the Commonwealth contribution to the transition in Nigeria during the decade in question.
I donâ€™t know how many of you will recall that the Commonwealth, speaking through me at the time as the Secretary General, unequivocally condemned the annulment of the June 12 election.â€
Continuing, he said â€œI did so because a number of very distinguished Commonwealth citizens, I remember two of them in particular, Lord Robertson who subsequently became the secretary general of NATO, came with his colleague to tell me that the elections in Nigeria on June 12 were indeed credible. And so the Commonwealth criticized the annulment of the election in very clear terms.
Of course, two years later in 1995, the Commonwealth suspended Nigeria from the membership of the organisation. And they did so because the Nigerian government atÂ the time, the government of General Abacha was seen to be anti-human rights in its general behaviour. And the suspension of Nigeria was a seminal move in term of establishing the pariah status of the country within the international community.â€
In addition, he said â€œpeople asked me at a time how I felt being a Secretary General of the organisation that suspended my own country. Of course, my answer was simple. First, the Commonwealth heads of governments, especially those who knew me personally, feared that I would as a matter of principle resign and in order to preempt that in the decision they took in suspending Nigeria, they had a special paragraph in that communiquÃ©, in a very unusual manner, they reaffirmed their confidence in their Secretary General and wished their Secretary General to continue to represent and articulate commonwealth principle.â€
â€œAnd second, at the time, I had ample evidence of the fact that the vast majority of my compatriots, not only that they had representatives that came to my office many times but also prominent Nigerians, including some traditional rulers , and of course, reports I was getting from my Nigerian friends and family, all these left me in no doubt that the vast majority of my compatriots were against what was happening in the country. So, I decided that to the extent I was able to retain and articulate that opposition; it was a service to my countryâ€, he said.
On how he helped salvage the country from the brink of collapse during the military era and the contribution of the Commonwealth to the transition from military to civil rule, he said â€œthen, in 1998 following the change of government, on his second day in office as the new Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar called me and we spoke and he said I should come and visit him and the country, which I had not done for four years. And I came and that was the beginning of the several conversations I had with him in the course of actualising hand over toÂ elected civilian government at the earliest opportunity.â€
He further explained that â€œfollowing that the then chairman of the electoral commission, Justice Ephriam Akpata, came to see me and we had conversation, as a result of which the chief electoral officer of India came here and remained in Nigeria for three months, helping the electoral commission.Â India as you know is the largest democracy on earth at the moment, and here wasÂ the man who has been responsible for organising the elections of India.
And there were Commonwealth experts that I sent to this country to organise workshops and training sessions for our own electoral officers. And when the election came, I sent a very powerful team of observers, headed by the recently retired President of Botswana. And so, in this limited way, the Commonwealth contributed to the transition.â€
While commending the Vanguard Publisher, Mr Sam Amuka, Anyaoku said â€œIâ€™m glad that among the distinguished guests today is a man popularly called Uncle Sam,Â because as a publisher of Vanguard, his newspaper has provided the avenue through which most of the commentaries in the book were presented to us.â€
Gov. Daniel wants democracy strengthened
On his part, the Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel called on Nigerians to strengthen the frontiers of democracy in order to avert what transpired in 1993.
Governor Daniel, who was represented by Secretary to the Ogun State government, Mr Olugbemi Onakoya commended the author for taking the time to â€œremind us of some issues that arrested our attention, the sacrifices of different degrees, that we made individually and collectively, in the tumultuous decade of 1993 to 2003 as he understood them and commented on them then.â€
According to him, â€œit was a decade marked by macabre and entertaining political development. It was a period that brought out the best and the worst of Nigeria political system; it was an age of demystification of certain individuals and institutions.â€
Speaking further, he said â€œlooking back at the ferocity of the ruling cabal of that era, only courageous and daring writer could have canvassed some of the views that are in this collection.â€
In order to avert a reoccurrence of what happened in 1993, he said â€œit is a reminder to us all not to take the current democratic dispensation for granted or scorns it on the altar of self vainglory. We must all work in concert to prevent the reoccurrence of such untoward era. Irrespective of creed, political affiliation or other divisive considerations, we should all work together to strengthen and expand the frontiers of democracy in our country. We are a great people, with incredible capacity for industry and improvisation, but we must get our polity right.
While advocating for true federalism and decentralisation of power at the centre, he said â€œwe must seize this occasion to enthrone true fiscal federalism to manage our fragile unity and ensure justice, fairness and equity in the distribution of the national wealth. In a situation where the central is extremely wealthy and has surplus, whilst the constitute units are impoverished, it is most likely that the peace, development and progress that we all desire will continue to elude us.â€
Dignitaries present at the event includedÂ Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye, Vanguard Publisher, Mr Sam Amuka; former Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Dele Alake; Ambassador Segun Olusola, former Minister of Finance, Dr Onaolapo Soleye; former Managing Director of Guarantee Trust Bank, Mr Fola Adeola and Chief Ayo Adebanjo.